Housel and hyhtplega: The Play of the Eucharist in the Exeter Book


This article examines the productive difficulties with which the Exeter Book riddles generate a state of mind appropriate for theological meditation, by considering the reversed violence of Eucharistic remembering and the ludic pleasures of the enigmatic text. I examine closely Riddle 85, which has been unanimously solved as ‘fish and river’ on account of its clear debt to the twelfth Aenigma of Symphosius, and, having acknowledged the attractiveness and the limitations of the one other commonly suggested solution, ‘soul and body’, propose a new solution, ‘the housel inside the body’. This proposed solution shares with ‘soul and body’ the meditation upon the material encountering the immaterial, but it better accounts for the seeming interchangeability of the two parts of this riddle’s solution, by considering the mutual inhering of Christ and communicant in the Eucharist. I read Riddle 85 in the context of Ælfric’s writing on the Eucharist, and also consider the hyhtplega, or joyful play, by which Christ leaps in Christ II, and by which the would-be riddle-solver must contemplate simultaneously a multiplicity of solutions.

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  1. 1.

    I use Craig Williamson’s edition of the riddles, but Krapp and Dobbie’s numbering system.

  2. 2.

    Translations are mine unless otherwise specified.

  3. 3.

    The pronoun “him” can be neuter as well as masculine, but the “he” of lines 3, 4 and 5 indicates a masculine noun.


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Correspondence to Lucy Harlow.

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Harlow, L. Housel and hyhtplega: The Play of the Eucharist in the Exeter Book. Neophilologus 104, 119–129 (2020).

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  • Old English
  • Anglo-Saxon
  • Riddles
  • Poetry
  • Exeter Book
  • Eucharist
  • Riddle 85